Dozens of Hong Kong opposition figures arrested under security law

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Hong Kong (AFP)

As many as 50 opposition figures from Hong Kong were arrested on Wednesday under a new national security law in the largest operation to date against criticism from Beijing, stepping up the crackdown on Beijing. financial center.

The latest police operation comes as China dismisses opposition to its regime in the semi-autonomous business center after millions took to the streets in 2019 with huge and sometimes violent protests for democracy.

Personalities and opposition parties have taken to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to confirm at least 21 arrests, most of them for “subversion”.

Two high-ranking police sources who both requested anonymity told AFP that “around 50” had been arrested by the city’s new national security unit.

The police sweep drew a crowd of opposition figures, from veteran former pro-democracy lawmakers such as James To, Andrew Wan and Lam Cheuk Ting to a crowd of young activists.

Among the young activists who confirmed their arrests via Facebook were Gwyneth Ho, a 30-year-old former journalist turned social activist, and Tiffany Yuen, a 27-year-old district councilor.

Colleagues of Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most famous democracy activists who is currently in prison, said via his official Facebook account that his house was searched by police in the same operation.

Hong Kong police did not respond to requests for comment on how many people were arrested and why.

Opposition figures said the arrests were linked to a primary organized by pro-democracy parties last year ahead of local parliamentary elections which were ultimately abandoned altogether.

More than 600,000 Hong Kong people turned out to vote in the unofficial primary, which aimed to choose who would stand for election to the Hong Kong legislature – a body where only half of the 70 seats are elected by the people.

The aim of the campaign was to win the 35 elected seats and gain a majority in the legislature for the first time.

At the time, Beijing officials warned that campaigning for a majority was “subversion” under the new security law.

– Arrested live on Facebook –

Ng Kin-wai, a district councilor, broadcast the moment the police came to his home live on Facebook.

“I am arresting you now for the offense of subversion,” said the officer who made the arrest.

“You participated in a primary election called ’35+ citizens vote’ in 2020 to elect 35 or more winners to join the Legislative Council. ”

The officer said the campaign “was aimed at seriously interfering with, disrupting or undermining” the government, as was a justification for the charge of subversion.

Robert Chung, a political pollster who helped organize the primary, was also among those arrested Wednesday, according to his colleague Chung Kim-wah.

The National Security Law was imposed on Hong Kong in late June in response to the 2019 protests.

The broad law targets acts that Beijing considers secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.

The legislation bypassed the city legislature and was kept a secret until it was passed.

Officials said the security law would target only an “extreme minority.”

But he quickly silenced dissent and banned a host of peaceful political views with dozens of figures arrested even before Wednesday’s operation.

Over the past year, prominent democracy supporters have been arrested, jailed, excluded from politics, or have fled abroad.

Some have seen their assets frozen or families frozen in their bank accounts.

Crimes against national security carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, and bail is generally not granted to those charged.

Others were imprisoned for organizing or participating in protests.

The law also broke the legal firewall between Hong Kong’s independent judiciary and the mainland Communist Party-controlled courts.

China has claimed jurisdiction over particularly serious security crimes and allowed its security agents to operate openly in the city for the first time.

Several Western countries have accused Beijing of tearing up the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement in which it promised that Hong Kong could retain certain freedoms and autonomy before its transfer in 1997 by Great Britain.

Washington has sanctioned a key official over security law, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

Beijing defended the law as a necessary measure to restore stability.

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